New tour itineraries to Thanh Ha’s lychee gardens and ancient pagodas, which is only about 60 km from Hanoi, would soon be offered to tourists.
Khong Quoc Tuan, the director of tourism in Hai Duong Province once told us that “ Hai Duong has not much, but we have our hearts with which to welcome all of you”. But he was too modest.
The province on the northeastern outskirts of Hanoi has lots to offer those seeking a day trip from the capital or a weekend getaway.
Thanh Ha District, for example, is one of Vietnam’s most famous regions for growing lychee that ripen around May and early July. In fact, the fruit is considered to have originated from this area.
Several domestic travel companies are planning to offer new tour itineraries to Thanh Ha’s lychee gardens and ancient pagodas. At only about 60 km from Hanoi, the district is easily accessible by motorbike, too.
A must-see on this jaunt is an “ancestral” 19th-century lychee tree, which broke the record last year to become the oldest of its species in Vietnam. The tree was planted in Thuy Lam town of Thanh Son commune by Hoang Van Com (born in 1848), who brought home three lychee seeds from a fest he attended in neighbouring Hai Phong Province hosted by Chinese people.
He planted the Chinese seeds in his garden. They all grew well, and one of them, which is now the oldest such tree in the country – produced delicious fruit. Com decided to clone the special tree, taking saplings and spreading them across the village.
Since then, Thanh Ha lychee has gained popularity and become a local staple. The district has more than 1,000 hectares of lychees conforming to the VietGap standard and has exported the fruit to the US, the EU and Japan.
“The ancestral lychee tree is the pride of our family and we do our best to preserve it,”said Hoang Van Luom, a sixth generation direct descendant of Hoang Van Com.
Take you time visiting the lychee gardens of local families, where the fruit can be bought directly after tasting them - and for far less than you would spend at the supermarket. This year, a kilo picked at the gardens goes for VND30,000 (US$1.3), compared to VND50,000 at the market. And more importantly, you know for sure where the fruits are from.
After the gardens, it’s time to visit several old pagodas nearby.
Dong Ngo Pagoda in Tien Tien Commune is one of the oldest pagodas in Hai Duong Province, built during the Dinh Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago.
Its most significant feature is the nine-storey lotus tower (cuu pham lien hoa, in Vietnamese), a unique Buddhist artwork dating to 1692. Currently, there are only three such rotary wooden works in Vietnam, in three old pagodas.
This artwork originates from a ritual of praying and rotating an object - a pendulum or a bell or this lotus tower - at the same time. This ritual is believed to allow prayers and wishes to be delivered to heaven. The tower symbolises the spiritual levels that Buddhists have to practice from the first storey to the ninth.
On each storey of this 5m high lotus-shaped tower there are 18 wooden Buddhist statues sitting on lotus. Besides its artistic values, the tower conveys a message of compassion, altruism and charity and shows the development of the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Sect in Viet Nam during the 17th-18th centuries.
A quick visit to the pagoda also reveals newly-built architectural works in stone. You’ll see two round wells decorated with various stone blocs, as well as stone mortars in the yard of the pagoda. You can also cross a 3m-long stone bridge at a corner of the pagoda.
Stop and gaze in awe at the 30m-long map of Viet Nam made of 300 stone mortars. The Most Venerable Thich Thanh Thang travelled near and far to look for stone mortar and stone blocks to create those original architectural works.
Do not miss the opportunity to visit the ancient and romantic Bach Hao Pagoda in Thach Xa commune, overlooking the Cua Chua River. The 11th century Ly Dynasty edifice is known as one of the most poetic pagodas in the Red River Delta.
And if you happen to be there on the 6th day of the Lunar New year, drop by one of the pagoda festivals featuring such events as duck catching, rice cooking, and traditional farmer boat race.